Voters Go for Higher Minimum Wage, Reject Abortion Limits ; in 205 Ballot Measures, Voters in 37 States Side with Positions That Are Both Liberal and Conservative

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As voters in 50 states changed the face of Congress and signaled their displeasure over the war in Iraq, voters in 37 states spoke loudly Tuesday about a host of issues closer to home via 205 ballot initiatives. The measures covered a range of issues, from the year's hot-button debates over eminent domain and gay marriage, to the perennial favorites of exactly how to tax and spend on everything from roads and bridges to education.

"The voters are changing things in Washington but also changing a lot in their states using direct democracy," says John Matsusaka, director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.

The people spoke in unison for many of the year's most watched votes. But this unanimity did not align with either party's traditional stances.

Voters in six states approved increases to the minimum wage, a typically Democratic issue. Yet all but one of the eight ballot measures to ban gay marriage passed - bringing the number of states with such amendments to 23. Arizona became the first state to reject such a ban.

Red-state South Dakota said "thumbs down" to a sweeping abortion ban and Missouri said "thumbs up" to stem-cell research.

Expanding use of initiatives

The number of measures - the third highest ever - is up from 162 last year, continuing an upward trend.

"Arguably, if you really look at what goes on in states, these decisions set the tone and drive the agenda of what politicians will focus on in taking the directions that really affect people's lives," Mr. Matsusaka says. "The ballot [propositions] are as important as what the guys in state legislatures do."

Experts are now trying to identify possible trends, direction shifts, mixed messages, and apparent contradictions in the voting results that will affect the daily lives of state citizens for years to come.

While many House seats swung Democrat this year, observers say voters approved a mix of conservative and liberal agendas, repeating a perennial pattern that avoids simple political analysis.

"At the end of the day, both liberals and conservatives had big wins. Everyone is going to get something," says Matsusaka.

Arizonans, for instance, approved raising the minimum wage by an overwhelming margin of 66 percent to 34 percent. At the same time, they prohibited state subsidies to illegal aliens (71 percent) and made English the state's official language (74 percent).Californians gave a green light to four major infrastructure bonds backed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the same governor they roundly rebuffed last fall by turning back four separate initiatives he backed.

Much of Tuesday's ballot-measure voting was a reaction to events that angered voters and prompted them to try to take back some measure of control. …